How Germany and the United States can remember and “sell” their success to their citizens
Despite a fraught early 20th century relationship, history books will paint Germany and the United States of America as two close partners who seemed to have emerged as beneficiaries of globalization by the turn of the 21st century. With respective annual GDP growth between 1.5% and 2% in 2015—less than a decade after a global recession, – one could posit that the two countries would believe in the same narrative that helped bring stability and prosperity. However, popular sentiments would indicate otherwise. In 2016, America elected a president who ran on closing borders and backing out of trade agreements while Germany continues to grapple with its immigration policies and their effects.
Yet, a transatlantic narrative to “sell” globalization is needed in part because both countries have so much more to lose than to gain should borders close. Start-ups in Silicon Valley as well as Berlin have pushed the limits of innovation and the comfortable quality of life, rife with multi-cultural cuisine and entertainment, that so many Americans and Germans enjoy is a product of the flow of capital, products, and humans.
Selling “globalization 2.0” requires acknowledging the downfall of the first iteration. Globalization has had tangible negative effects: in the US, automation is not the only cause for the loss of manufacturing jobs (which decreased by 33% between 2000 and 2009), there is also the real issue that global American companies have found more competitive labor markets abroad. On the contrary, Germany has emerged as a winner of competitive advantage in manufacturing within the European Union. During the same 2000-2009 period, Germans only saw manufacturing jobs decrease by 11%. However, popular anti-globalization sentiments point to an increase in migration, which leaves too many voters feeling unstable about the future. Learning from the Germans, who did not stress shareholder maximization as the “golden ticket” for private companies, could be beneficial for new engineer and manufacturing employers in the US. Similarly, American political leaders could benefit from the early success of refugee and immigrant integration. While security is a topical issue in France and the U.K, there seems to be more foiled and failed plots than successful attacks in Germany (so far).
What is needed in terms of transatlantic common ground is a narrative of leadership. That in uncertain times, the rest of the world can still look up to the United States of America as well as Germany—especially as European countries debate their union. This leadership can be solidified through business arrangements- incubators for example- as well as a broad marketing campaign. German political leaders could take a page out of Vladimir Putin’s playbook and address Americans directly through interviews and op-eds in renown media outlets. Beyond their economic advancements, Germany and America share many similarities that too often remain an after-thought: pro-business sentiments, a strong commitment to national security, and a willingness to take the lead on an international stage.
More importantly, America and Germany have helped advance great values of openness and tolerance around the world. Their middle classes may feel stifled but that is because the gap between people’s expectations of their future and their reality has increased due to the rest of the world rising: among others there are fewer maternal deaths, more women in school, more middle-class families in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and more opportunity to travel internationally for everyone. This phenomenon is partially due to the belief that the growing pains of globalization, such as income inequality, can be corrected and will ultimately yield growth for everyone.
A shared narrative of leadership in the form of a multi-media campaign will educate the general population in both countries, and with a renewed sense of pride in their worldly contributions, we should expect more average people to want care about the other side of the Atlantic. Instead of nationalistic pride, this campaign will transcend tribalism to show that Americans and Germans have helped advance the world…and should continue to do so.